UNITED STATES. Rochester, NY. Thousands gathered on Saturday night at the corner of Jefferson and McCree, the site where an unarmed naked Black man was held down, head covered on a cold March night and was asphyxiated while in police custody. Daniel Prude has become yet another victim of police brutality against Black men and women across the United States, fueling an already explosive movement that is bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to address systemic racism.
Peaceful protests begin with silence and protesters on their knees
Before the march to the court house began, organizers with Free The People ROC, asked everyone to take a knee and a moment of silence and honor Daniel Prude. This moment of silence was followed by a benediction wishing all the protesters peace and culminated with a song and a meditation for all the protesters to breathe in their rage and breathe out peace. The peaceful march began at 8:46pm and continued to the court house where several speeches were made.
At 9:50, gathered at the court house, the protesters were asked to put up their “shields” which consisted of umbrellas and the tops of large plastic storage bins. These preparations were made in response to Friday night’s clash with the police who sprayed a peaceful crowd with pepper bullets and tear gas. The melee that followed led to a trash can at a bus stop being set on fire and a popular local restaurant getting outdoor tables smashed.
Protesters continue to march in peace
At 10:14, protesters gathered at the intersection of Exchange and State (a main intersection in the heart of the city). The crowd broke out in song and chanting.
Police use offensive measures
At approximately 10:40, police issued a warning for the protesters to disband because their gathering was deemed an “illegal assembly.” Within seconds of issuing the warning, pepper balls were fired into the crowd. Prepared for such police action, the protesters remained calm and most began to walk backward, away from the toxic air.
A firework was launched from the southeast corner of Exchange and Court Streets. A spark ricocheted off of a building and came within inches of those gathered on the sidewalk.
At 10:44, the protesters advanced toward the police barrier once again chanting, “Hell no! We won’t go.” Pepper spray and flash bombs were launched into the crowd again. Several protesters could be seen with tears in their eyes yelling out for medics as the protesters once again calmly retreated.
At 10:50, the protesters advanced once again toward the police barrier and at 11:00, pepper spray and flash bombs were fired again. At 11:02, the police threatened to start arresting people. (11 people were ultimately arrested.) Once again, at 11:11 and 11:15, pepper bullets and tear gas were launched into the crowd.
In addition to this final round of offensive strategies to disperse the crowd, the police threatened to release dogs into the crowd, hearkening back to the civil rights’s protests of the 1960s when dogs were unleashed on Black protesters.
Crowd seeks refuge in local church
Organizers of last night’s protest called for protesters to seek shelter in a local church that remained open to provide aid: food, water, bathrooms, medical attention, and emotional triage as well.
Mike Boucher, an activist and part time staff at Spiritus Christi Church was there to welcome protesters. Organizers instructed people to either get inside the church or go home.
Boucher was stationed at the door as the police approached, he told Transcontinental Times. “There was small contingent on the street. The officers fired pepper balls at those few who had gathered, threatening arrest as it was past a recently set curfew. Those people on the street rushed inside the church.
Boucher and others observed that officers had surrounded the church.
Inside, people were being treated for various injuries, including one protester whose injuries warranted an ambulance but they refused because they did not want any interaction with police who would respond to a 911 call.
Though Boucher did not observe this, he said that there were several credible reports of the police ransacking supplies that had been dropped off outside the church to help protesters.
Protesters were trying to leave the church and they were chased by the police. Around 1:15am, Boucher got on a call with the chief of police and the pastor of Spiritus Christi to explain that there were people in the church who needed to leave safely. Chief Singletary assured him that protesters would be allowed to leave.
Boucher and two other white male protesters approached officers on the street to confirm that those in the church could leave. The officers had not been informed by the chief of this permission, but the officers said if those who wanted to leave stayed on the sidewalk, they would not be arrested. However, Boucher heard later that people were in fact arrested, even after the police said they could pass without arrest.
Mayor and police chief give statement today
Mayor Lovely Warren responded to recent protests saying that as a native of Rochester and even growing up on the same street that Daniel Prude was murdered on, she is committed to new policies moving forward. Today, she moved the Family Crisis and Intervention Team from the police department to engage with the Racial and Structural Equity Commission that she created in June to respond to emergency mental health issues. However, she refused to demand that her police department stand down in the face of further expected protests. She stood behind the recent actions of her Police Chief, La’Ron Singletary.
She introduced Pastor Myra Brown from Spiritus Christi Church who is going to lead a coalition of elders in the community to serve as a buffer between protesters and police at tonight’s protests.
Organizers of the march offered a response on the steps of the court house. They are still demanding the resignation of Mayor Warren and Police Chief Singletary. “When it comes to Lovely Warren, we want her gone because she covered up the murder of a Black man calling for help,” said Stanley Martin, one of the organizers.
Protests continue for 5th night
More than a thousand have gathered in Rochester again tonight, 6 Sept. Currently, the protesters are holding a peaceful sit-in.